That has been the big question we’ve gotten from friends and family over and over again: How did we decide that it would be Australia where we would spend our 1-year sabbatical? I’ve often wondered if the question was really: How could you not choose France or Hawaii or Fiji, the more typical places one might lounge around for an entire year.
The process of choosing a country was not an easy one in the Hook household, because in truth, yes I would have loved to live in Paris for a year. It seemed the best way to go about deciding ‘the where’ was to write down our country wish lists. I got a scrap piece of paper for Hook, one for me, and we agreed to write down up to five countries worth uprooting our lives for. Remember, we were still in the year 2010 when we began planning this gig so whatever we chose that evening was going to be with us for two and a half years … the year and half of planning plus the actual year living abroad.
I wrote out my country list, and Hook wrote out his. We compared lists. At the top of my list was Mexico; At the top of Hook’s list was Trinidad.
Mexico: From 2004-2006, I lived in the mountains of Mexico and then in 2009 when Hook and I married, we spent a portion of our month-long honeymoon in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. (What girl doesn’t want to sleep with jaguars on her honeymoon?) But Hook doesn’t speak Spanish and he’s honest enough to admit he has no interest in learning. As much as he loved a honeymoon in the jungle, Hook needed to be fluent in a host country’s language if he were going to be there for an entire year doing research. Mexico was a “No” for him.
Trinidad: For the last 15 years, Hook has been running off to Trinidad in the summer months to do research and from what I understand, Trinidad hosts an inordinate amount of mosquitoes who profess an undying love for Americans. Hook’s description of life in Trinidad definitely appealed to my minimalistic nature but I wanted something different for him and different for me. Trinidad was a “No” for me.
See, Hook studies, researches, and collects data on WASPS — White, Anglo, Saxon, Protestants. That would be funny wouldn’t it? Actually, he’s a bug guy, not an exterminator or anything, but a biologist, an entomologist, and his specialty is the solitary wasp.
With both Mexico and Trinidad eliminated, Hook and I continued down our lists. I’m not really sure anymore if I remember what our next four choices were except France was on my list and I was stunned it wasn’t on his. I mean, Hook is half-French and not even fake French in the way that some people say “I’m French” when they’ve never been to France and cannot make claim to any blood relative in the country. But Hook’s mother was a native Frenchwoman, a war bride who met and married Hook’s dad while he was stationed in France during World War II, and she emigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s. He’s a bona fide French-American.
“How could you not put France on there? France. Paris, Marseille. France!” I asked.
“I can’t go there,” Hook said. “I wouldn’t be able to get any work done.”
“The bugs won’t know you can’t speak French,” I said. “They’re bugs!”
“There aren’t any bugs there,” Hook said.
“There aren’t any bugs there?”
“There aren’t any bugs there.” He said again.
There are no bugs in France? Nobody told me and nobody told the bugs living in France. I know there are only three things Hook loves in life — me, bugs, and fishing — and I’m probably last on the list. In order for this to be a research sabbatical in which his university continued to pay him, Hook had to choose a country where he could collect what he studies and it had to be a country that spoke English or some version of it.
“Well, what about London? They speak English there.” My voice had taken on a slight, whiny tone.
“Babe, I need to be able to collect.” Hook said.
“But there are bugs in London. I know they’re there. I know I’ve seen bugs there before!” I could feel hysteria coming on.
No France, no England. There was no point to my country list because apparently no bugs existed in all of Europe according to Hook. Seems like little French bugs would have been interesting to study with all that butter and wine they must munch on.
I cannot remember what Hook’s other countries were except they sounded hot, humid, and infested … except one. Hook looked over at my list and pointed with his pen toward my number five choice.
“What’s that?” He asked.
“Well that’s on my list, too.” He said.
“Where?” I mumbled as my bottom lip pushed out like a two-year old.
“Here,” and Hook pointed at number three on his list.
“No, I mean, where in Australia?” I asked as I pulled in my bottom lip.
“Well, we’d have to figure that out.”
“Could it be somewhere near water?” I asked in my most spoiled voice. If I couldn’t have Paris, I wanted water. I wouldn’t learn until later that the only habitable places in Australia were on the water. Everything else in the interior is mostly desert.
“I’d have to find a university that would take me as a visiting professor.” Hook said.
“Oh my god, that’s the easy part. Any university would love to have you.”
“Well they have to have an entomology department.” Hook insisted.
“There are bugs in Australia! They are a lot of bugs. We’re going to Australia!”
And that’s how we chose Australia.
Is the tune Land Down Under from Men at Work going through your head? Me, too!